Rogues, Rascals and Villains
A roundup of Hawaii’s most notorious baddies from loveable hucksters to cold-blooded killers.
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Photos courtesy of Hawaii State Archives
Just for the record, HONOLULU is all for the rule of law and the good guys. We just can’t resist talking about the bad guys once in a while. On the following pages, we’ve collected some of Hawaii’s most intriguing no-goodniks—the ones so charming, so devious, so downright scary, that the town is still talking about them, up to a century later.
“I am what I am—a peduncular polyp of life’s pedicel but hardly malignant. Hawaii must take me as I am.” The people of Hawaii did just that. Even if few ever believed a word Sammy Amalu said, he was loved for his charm and history-making schemes.
For example, there was that little multimillion-dollar Mystery Hui scam of 1962, which earned Amalu worldwide publicity for attempting to buy all five Sheraton Hotels in Waikiki and other choice Oahu land. At the time, newspapers splashed headlines like “$34 million offered for Isle Sheratons!” across their front pages. If the deal were legit, it would have been the biggest in Hawaii real estate history. Instead, it dissolved into the biggest hoax in Hawaii history when it was revealed that the wealthy “pro regents” of the Swiss presidium ready to buy the hotels were really just a few California teenagers Amalu had hired for the summer.
| Orieman Fujihara |
is perhaps the only person in Hawaii to be sentenced to life in prison for two non-related crimes, decades apart. After being convicted of first-degree murder in 1901, he was pardoned in 1919, but ran afoul of the law again in 1931 when he burned a man’s house down. A second pardon was not forthcoming.
Just 33 days after he got out of the joint, Amalu wrote more bad checks, totaling $99,000, for three Cadillacs, three Jaguars, one Rolls Royce and a Bentley—landing him right back in the pen.
A year before his death in 1986, this magazine crowned Amalu “King of the Charismatic Con Men.” In his 1970 self-written obituary, Amalu wrote, “Sing no sad songs over my mortal dust. I have known laughter. I have known tears. I have tasted victory. I have sipped of failure. Is not all this enough?”
TOMMY "FAT BOY" OKUDA
Front-row seats, employee discounts, free drinks—knowing the right person in the right place can be the best thing in the world. For years, Tommy “Fat Boy” Okuda was one of those guys. Over the course of his long career at the Bureau of Traffic Violations, he “disappeared” thousands of traffic tickets for those in the know, notably legislators and other high-ranking government officials. He also wielded legendary power within the local Democratic party as a lobbyist, eventually heading the state Judiciary and Sheriff’s departments. Okuda handed out deputy sheriff’s badges to favored friends, and armed the department with Uzis and laser-sighted rifles.
Okuda’s ways had been an open secret for years, but when, inevitably, the news hit the papers in 1985, it erupted into a politically charged scandal. The city prosecutor office investigators even raided Okuda’s office, seizing eight handguns and bundles of tickets as evidence. During the prosecution, Okuda claimed to be a scapegoat and to be fair, he had hardly worked alone. He existed as part of a system of cronyism that included police officers, legislators and judges.
He was eventually convicted of just 13 misdemeanor counts of ticket fixing in 1989, but his civil service career was over.
“Working girls” from the New Senator Hotel posed for a photographer in 1940.
Photo courtesy of Ted Chernin
During an outrageous time in Honolulu’s history, Jean O’Hara emerged as the most outrageous prostitute and madam of them all. In the years before and during World War II, prostitution was an openly acknowledged and well-regulated part of Chinatown.
The restrictions for prostitutes were stringent—the women were not allowed to go to Waikiki, have steady boyfriends, visit a friend’s apartment or own property. But O’Hara had her own style. Flamboyantly flouting the rules, she tried to buy a home in Manoa and was promptly thrown in jail. During another one of her many heated run-ins with the law, the chief of police threatened to send O’Hara back to the Mainland for traveling without permission.
“I told him that I’d do as I darned well pleased, that I was a citizen and a taxpayer, and that I had violated no laws,” she wrote later.
So open was O’Hara about her profession that in 1944 she published an autobiography, Honolulu Harlot, revealing the inner workings of the industry. In her words, Honolulu was a “fleshmine of gold for the low down grafters.” For the town’s do-gooders, the sordid details of prostitution were too much to take. The lights in Honolulu’s red district were soon dimmed.